The world's largest sporting event starts today, and if you're anything like me, your work will suffer greatly because of it. If you're not a huge soccer fan and just want to know "who's who" and what's going on, here is a very brief primer on the teams and games to watch in the group stages -- including my predictions! Grab a beer, throw out that old vuvuzela, and get watching.
Brazil - "A Seleçaõ" - Automatic qualifiers as 2014 Host
Croatia - "Vatreni" (The Blazers) - Second in UEFA Group A, Defeated Iceland 2-0 (agg.) in playoff round
BIGGEST GAME - Croatia v. Mexico. In a group that is essentially "Brazil and everyone else," these two teams have the best technical quality to provide an entertaining game, and the winner may very well be the second team out of Group A.
Australia - "The Socceroos" - Second in AFC Group B
Chile - "La Roja" - Third in CONMEBOL Qualifying
Netherlands - "Oranje" - First in UEFA Group D
Spain - "La Furia Roja" (The Red Fury) - First in UEFA Group I
BIGGEST GAME: Spain v. Netherlands. In a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, these two title contenders face off in what is one of the biggest games guaranteed to take place in this tournament. Spain's tiki-taka style goes up right against the Netherlands' new counter-attacking style, in what will surely be a tense matchup.
Colombia - "Los Cafeteros" (The Coffee Growers) - Second in CONMEBOL Qualifying
Ivory Coast - "Les Éléphants" - Defeated Senegal 4-2 (agg.) in CAF Final Round
Japan - "Samurai Blue" - First in AFC Group B
BIGGEST GAME: Ivory Coast v. Japan. This match pits the physical and athletic Ivorians against the technically sound Japanese in a clash of styles. These two teams are likely competing for second place in the group, and the winner of this game will have an enormous head start in reaching that goal.
- Ivory Coast
Costa Rica - "Los Tecos" - Second in CONCACAF Final Round
England - "The Three Lions" - First in UEFA Group H
Italy - "Gli Azzurri" (The Blues) - First in UEFA Group B
Uruguay - "La Celeste" (The Sky Blue) - Fifth in CONMEBOL Qualifying, Defeated Jordan 5-0 (agg.) in CONMEBOL-AFC Playoff
BIGGEST GAME: Italy v. England. Barring any surprises from Costa Rica or Uruguay, these two teams will likely be making it through to the next round. Both teams have enormous expectations, but aren't considered real contenders. A positive result in this match may give a team a push for the rest of the tournament.
- Costa Rica
Ecuador - "La Tri" - Fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying
Honduras - "Los Catrachos" (The Hondurans) or La H - Third in CONCACAF Final Round
Switzerland - "Schweizer Nati" (National Team) - First in UEFA Group E
BIGGEST GAME: Honduras v. Switzerland. While Ecuador boasts a solid qualification record at home, they are atrocious outside of altitude. Assuming France can avoid a scandal similar to 2010, this game between Honduras and Switzerland should decide who moves on from group E.
Argentina - "La Albiceleste" (The White & Sky Blue) - First in CONMEBOL Qualifying
Bosnia-Herzegovina - "Zmajevi" (The Dragons) - First in UEFA Group G
Iran - "Team Melli" (National Team) - First in AFC Group A
Nigeria - "Super Eagles" - Defeated Ethiopia 4-1 (agg.) in CAF Final Round
BIGGEST GAME: Bosnia-Herzegovina v. Nigeria. Another game to decide second place behind a true contender, Bosnia comes off of a very solid qualifying campaign to face the African champions in Nigeria. This should be an exciting back and forth match with some impressive athletes on both sides.
Germany - "Die Mannschaft" (The Team) - First in UEFA Group C
United States - "The Yanks" or "USMNT" - First in CONCACAF Final Round
BIGGEST GAME: Germany v. Portugal. Hard to pick a single game out of the "group of death" as the most important, but if one of Germany or Portugal can steal a win in this game, it will ratchet up the pressure on the loser and provide some well-needed breathing room in Group G. If it ends in a draw, any combination of these teams could go through to the knockout stages.
- USA (Yes, homer pick, sorry I'm not sorry)
Algeria - "Les Fennecs" (The Desert Foxes) - Defeated Burkina Faso 3-3 (shootout) in CAF Final Round
Belgium - "de Rode Duivels" (The Red Devils) - First in UEFA Group A
Russia - "Sbornaya" (The National Team) - First in UEFA Group F
South Korea - "Taeguk Warriors" or "The Reds" - Second in AFC Group A
BIGGEST GAME: Russia v. Belgium. Both teams should make it out of the group easily, but this match should prove a stern test for darkhorse contender Belgium. A good result here could boost them going into the knockout rounds.
- South Korea